Des Plainest St. Patrick Academy

“Line Drawing” of St. Patrick Academy
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Submitted By Alice Walker (Class of 1968)

The History of Des Plaines St. Patrick Academy

Des Plaines St. Patrick Academy Entrance
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Submitted by Karen Kornacki Knegten

Des Plaines (population 50,720) is located in far northeastern Illinois in near-northwestern Cook County. It is considered a suburb of the city of Chicago. The city of Des Plaines is basically located northwest of the intersection of Interstate Highway 90 and Interstate Highway 294. The Des Plaines River flows through town. Illinois Routes 12, 45, 58, 62 and 83 all pass through Des Plaines as well.

Des Plaines St. Patrick Academy opened its doors to grade school- and high school-aged girls on Chicago’s West Side in 1883, as the Sisters of Mercy order welcomed a total of 48 students (both day & boarders). The school thrived and relocated to Des Plaines in 1928, then discontinued the grade school section in 1930. Boarding was then limited to those who were novitiates in the Sisters of Mercy community from 1930-1958.

Like most schools after World War II, St. Patrick’s enrollment grew, going from 260 in the fall of 1952 to 666 10 years later, but fell by one-third to 443 in the fall of 1968. Apparently as the school was growing, the Sisters of Mercy considered building a new facility in Des Plaines or Mount Prospect near an industrial park, but delayed their decision to act. In the meantime, the property was sold and the Sisters missed their chance to purchase the land they once considered.

Des Plaines Academy – Rear of Building
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Submitted by Tim Zyrkowski

Unfortunately, the school’s concern of losing students to others spurred talk about merging with an all-boys’ high school, Niles Notre Dame, in 1968. After careful consideration, the Sisters of Mercy community could not commit to a possible merger and decided to close the school following the 1968-69 school year.

Reasons given for closing were rising operational costs, declining enrollment, a deteriorating physical plant, and a decrease in the number of teaching nuns within the Sisters of Mercy community. The St. Patrick High School building was razed in the early 1970s.


Year opened in Chicago:           1883

Moved to Des Plaines:              1928

Ended boarding:                       1930

Year closed:                            1969

School nickname:                     unknown

School colors:                          Green & Gold

School song:                            “Stand Up for S.P.A.!”

                                                               Courtesy of KAREN KNEGTENS

                                 Stand Up! Let’s cheer and sing for S.P.A.,

                                 The Green and Gold will lead the way!

                                 Patricians tried and true we’ll fight for you,

                                 Our goal is vict’ry for today!

                                 The thrills and tears from all the games we played,

                                 The joy and fun, the loyal friends we made,

                                 Will live forever in the sweet memory of the halls of SPA.


At the time that the school was open, it is likely that the school did not offer interscholastic sports, but could still have been a member of the IHSA for music, drama and debate activities…even though there is no proof in the IHSA record book that the school won anything. Certainly, numerous activities were offered to the students at St. Patrick’s such as intramurals, dances, musicals, plays, band or chorus, and others. We’d like to hear from a graduate or someone who may remember the school to let us know what the school did offer.

Colleens Drum & Bugle Corps Bus
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An anonymous writer shared these photos and the follwoing information on the St. Patrick Academy Drum & Bugle Corps:

“The Colleens Drum and Bugle Corps of St. Patrick’s Academy, members of which were all students of the School, went on through 1974.  In 1970 the Corps won the coveted first place in B class competition in the State Competitions.”

Drum & Bugle Corps
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Drum & Bugle Corps
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At St. Patrick Academy in Des Plaines, IL

by  Margaret R. “Peg”  Paluch

Ours was a different kind of gym, though.  It was a basement converted to a half court basket ball area, a west side practice area which doubled for seating, a stage and an office in back.  The Gym gifted us with great advantage because guest basket ball teams didn’t know how to play half court basket ball.  However, our team didn’t know what to do in a full court.  There was simply too much room.  It worked both ways.  But I digress.

Morning came in a little cool.  The busses arrived and dropped us off at St. Pats.  Most of us were not wearing coats.  Slowly the suns warmth melted away the chill and by that time we were in Homeroom.  Having been called to assembly by our principal, Sr. Nora, we all walked to the Gymnasium.  This event happened around mid day;  1p or thereabouts. We really didn’t feel the need to hurry to assembly, so my group kind of strolled in to the gym.  Half of it had seating and most of us stood. Some of the girls were still in they’re gym suits.  I was not.

Sr. Nora came to the podium.  “Girls, we have a guest speaker today .  His name is Mr. Durkin.  Please give him as much attention as you afford me.”  Mr. Durkin approached the podium.

“ Good day, ladies.  I am here to speak on the behalf of the board.”  Running through my head I thought, crap another board announcement.  I’m supposed to be in Lit and I like the class.

“ St. Patrick Academy will be closing at the end of this school year.”  The students were abruptly silenced and stilled.  We were at least disbelieving what we just heard, and at most, shocked out of our wits.

As if choreographed, the gasp was in unison, and the shouting of protest began.

“The class of 1970 will not be graduating from St. Patrick’s, they will have to find another school from which to graduate.  This was a very hard decision for those of us on the board.  My children will also be affected.”

The students’ excitement, dismay, disbelief and anger swelled almost to a fevered pitch. Personally, I planned to graduate from SPA despite what this guy said.  My mind took the path of denial.  To me this was the path of least resistance and the one towards escape. Two younger sisters of mine were in the same dilemma.

The students looked around for any small piece of hope, to cling on to.  But there wasn’t even a piece of lint.   Mr. Durkin stepped back from the podium and Sr. Nora returned.  “Ladies, as soon as you calm down, we can get back to business.”  Well, that didn’t happen quick as a bunny!  A man had just dashed many of our hopes and there were going to be a  lot of questions.  The news finally set in with me.  The noise woke me up .  I was stultified, broken and worried for my sisters who were probably bereaved.

“ Ladies,” Sr. Nora spoke, “come on now, settle down and we’ll have a restrained and orderly Q&A.”  Our calming took more than a little while. But it happened and Mr. Durkin came back to the Podium. ”Girls, this was not an easy decision.  We thought carefully, slowly and prayed for the answer to come. The parents of the board are just as upset as you are. Essentially this was our only option.”   (an aside: I must share that this writing is very difficult for me.  It brings it all to the fore of my mind and I weep as I type, not only for myself but for my sister Patrician’s alike.)

Then it came to me.  As the Bugle Sergeant for THE COLLEENS, our drum and bugle corps, how would we continue.  All of this came rushing to my head as I tried to figure out where I was going to go to school, and how it would affect the corps members.  We strove so hard to get to the point where we could be in parades, and represent the spirit of SPA to the community; through discipline, integrity, and the best we could twirl, blow  the horns and beat those drums.  The corps members were united in passion, not only in (oops dare I say it) discord through attempted harmonious music.  We represented something much bigger than the sum of our members.  We were THE ACADEMY GIRLS! ;  those that the general public saw at any rate.

Back to Mr. Durkin.  He explained things about which we knew nothing, and then opened the floor for “restrained discussion”.   There were some uncalled for remarks, but that was to be expected.  Let’s face it, he dropped an atom bomb in our gym.  He fielded questions re: the business of the school, the finances, how we got here, and why didn’t we sue the airlines that kept hitting the towers.  That would keep us running for sure.  Obviously, he was a pro at keeping his calm with very youthful, hormonal woman.

“  Why not let the kids who are enrolled now graduate and not take any more students.”?  Now we got to the meat and potatoes of reasoning.  “ It would not be fiscally or economically feasible or responsible.”  he answered.  And someone yelled out, “So our lives and well being come down to the almighty buck!”

“In one way, yes.” Mr. Durkin responded and then added, “ The fourth floor is all ready condemned.  The Tower has been hit by the constantly growing O’Hare Airport  traffic.  The building has major structural damage which needs shoring up.  We’d have to raise the tuition to the unaffordable.  And we still wouldn’t meet the costs.   The school must close at the end of this year.  We’re all ready in the red.” and Sr. Nora came back to the podium. We were led in prayer and dismissed.

Through the disbelief, shock, sniffling and tears, we went to our Home Rooms.  There we gathered our things as the dismissal bell rang clearly as it always did.  But as fate would have it, after dismissal on our final day, it would ring no more.

There is a bittersweet ending to this, though.  THE COLLEENS continued on until 1974, and won  First Place in All State B Class Corps Competition,1970.  The dedication of parents and students alike was phenomenal.  We marched as The St. Patrick Academy COLLEENS.  With our heads held high and our spirit proudly marching through the streets. we each knew  WE ARE ACADEMY GIRLS!”


From Dan Arquilla:

“I lived in Des Plaines Illinois for most of my life.  I was looking at the page on your website devoted to the defunct St. Patrick’s Academy.  The page stated that it is not known if the building is still standing.

I can tell you that the building was gone by the mid-1970s.  (The buliding was located at Touhy Avenue and Lee Street.)  The property remained vacant for many years, until an office complex was built, probably in the 1980s.  The Des Plaines Park District used part of the property for a while. (I received golf lessons there in the late 1970s.)

St. Patrick’s Academy also played a part in the development of nearby St. Stephen Protomartyr church.  Before the parish church was built in 1952-53, Masses were held at the St. Patrick’s chapel.  The Sisters of Mercy also staffed St. Stephen’s School until around 1980 or so.

When I was a student at St. Stephen’s in 1976, I was part of a group of students that the principal took to the still vacant site as part of a metal detector class.  There was not much left, only some remnants of tiled floor.  A friend of mine was startled when he stepped on a snake.  (The site was rather overgrown.)”

Rear of St. Patrick Academy in Des Plaines
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Submitted by Tim Zyrkowski (Left Click on Photo for Larger View)

From Tim Zyrkowski:

“I lived on a street that backed up to the rear of the St. Pat’s building. I have recently come across a pic of the building and will get more scanned of the tear down. I watched daily, as a small child, as they tore it down. Complete demolition took about two weeks.

If you look to the West (right) in the picture (to your right), just over the white houses, you see the dome of a silo that was on the property at between Ash and Spruce Street in Des Plaines.”

From Pat Moore Fluhler (Class of 1969):

“I just came across your website for St.Pat’s and I can tell you we had a great time there. Loved that school, and made many friendships and still are very close. We were the last class to graduate from there, the class of ‘69, and this is our 40th year, which in fact we are celebrating on October 10th in Palatine . It makes me sad to see the photos but I have some as well and will get them to you as well.

One sport I can tell you we played that not many schools played was Deck Tennis. Ever heard of it? Look it up. We played with a little round  rubber blue donut, and we were set up much like volleyball. I have been told it originated on ships for fun. When we played basketball, we had SIX girls on a team, 2 stationary guards, 2 stationary forwards and 2 ‘rovers’ which could go full court. We could only dribble THREE times and had to stop and pass the ball. ALWAYS a jump ball, hardly ever took it out to the side.  Hahah a big difference then from womans basketball today.

Biology class was wayyyyy up stairs and when you had gym in the basement and then had to RUN up those back stairs 5 flights…….well no wonder why we were all in great shape! Our chapel was gorgeous. Oh my memories are just popping up……….so sad that she is gone, so sad.  OH and speaking of Biology………..a couple of things…….Sr. Mary Dolores would make you kneel down if she thought your skirt was rolled up and too short, and if it didn’t touch the floor…………..DETENTION!! ahahhah and one of our classmates, we wont mention names, drew faces on the clay beans that were on the wall in different stages of growth……HYSTERICAL!!!

I still have my tweed grey blazer from Jr/Sr year AND my very pretty gym suit which also included a skirt on it! Hhhahaha So many stories and memories!!”

From Vicky Stingley Dale:

“When I saw the site today I was so sadden to see the fuzzy picture of the school being torn down. In my mind it will always remain a beautiful work of art. Though I didn’t know it at the time it would be one of my best memories. My name back then was Vicky Stingley. I would have been in the 1971 graduating class but after going on to Maine West I had enough credits and graduated in 1970.  I just remembered Sister Mary Deloris used to inspect us to make sure we didnt have any eye make up on before we could use the microscopes. She didnt seem to like me much but because of my love for biology I became a nurse.”

From Jackie Wolf Harter:

“I graduated in 1968, and was one of the Colleens.  I have so many wonderful memories of St. Pat’s, the friends I made there, the nuns, the ‘gym,’ all the great times we had.  Even the dreaded wool uniforms, that were so miserable in the warmer months!  Rolling the waistband of the skirt so the hems were above our knees the minute we left school property.

Thank you for this wonderful site, I hope many more of the St. Pat’s girls find it!”

“We are neat and we are great,

We are the class of ’68!”

**From Margaret Rose-Robin “Peg” Paluch,  B.A.

(Proudly from the Class of 1970)

“Thank you for this site, and for bringing back the loving memories, some diminished over time.  I am from the class of 1970.  Needless to say, although I consider SPA as my Alma Mater, I was relocated.

In these days, I think the  discipline, caring, loyalty, and focus on education certainly made us more considerate and well educated people.  We didn’t have computers where we could buy papers on line.  We had to think.  We had a good work ethic.  Sure, it was tough, but most of us did go on to complete higher education.

Being taught by the clergy, men and women, provided us with an insight for which God intended personal pursuit.   Respect begat respect.  This was not bad stuff!  It taught us to be diligent, and to do the best we could at everything  we did in life.  Even sending a small thank you note, written in our best hand, was a very important task to complete.  We learned about things called integrity, honor, loyalty , truth… there was no “me” generation”.  We were sisters.  We were family.  We could be counted on.  Of course, we were afforded small classes and attention to growth.

Having ended up being an English Teacher at Notre Dame High School for Boys, I taught as I was taught. 1979 -1982. I focused on development of character, listening and skills becoming rote memory. The kids didn’t fear me, and I had an open door policy to my office. My Department Head reprimanded me for being strict.

Since,  past student’s have approached me, some of which were pretty big clowns who I thought might not have a chance.  ” Miss Paluch, I want to thank you for my skills in English.  I have become a lawyer, or I have inherited my father’s business”.  There is nothing better to hear.

I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t trade my Parochial School education for anything offered today.  Sir, our generation is proud of our heritage and schooling. Think of this, how many kids have said thank you or you’re welcome to you in the past few days?  How many have written thank you notes?  Some things have been, unfortunately,  lost from whence we came.  iPods take the place of simple conversation; grunts instead of words.  Eating out?  Sorry, my cell rang … got to take this call.  And, there is nothing more perturbing than to be sitting in a theater, with a dramatic  scene when “BORN TO BE WILD” interrupts. the actors.

Manners, sir, hardly exist.  Ask a high school graduate to spell EPITOME (pronounced e-pit-o-mee) and you’ll be lucky to get  the correct spelling.

I know when to fold.  I wonder, though, how these people can depend on themselves.  The future of correct Language Skills, I fear, is in peril. I am loquacious and verbose.  Thank you Dave, and thank you SPA!

With angels to guide you,  Peg”

St. Patrick Field Day – 1960
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Courtesy of Alice Walker

**From Vicki Walker (Class of 1968):

“Thank you for your great website that amazingly includes St. Pat’s. My sister Anne Walker sent me the link. I’ve attached a photo of Field Day, 1960 (to the right) and a line drawing of the building (top of page) that was printed on their thank you notes.

Six of us seven Walker girls attended St. Pat’s, with me being the last, graduating in 1968.

One of my favorite memories was working the switchboard after school, and the nuns would go into the chapel behind that entrance area, up a few stairs…. and sometimes chant. That was pretty awesome.

I also recall the two-sided staircase leading from the second floor to the third. Without students in the building, the place felt like a spacious palace – even with a not widely known narrow staircase by the grandfather clock in front of the chapel. It went down to the ground floor.

Despite lacking a swimming pool on the rumored fifth floor, or hosting many clubs, Mrs. Hohmeir (spellling?), Sister Francis, Sister Aloysius, and dear Sister Cassius who sold us ice cream bars and Hostess cup cakes – I’m grateful to all of them for providing the education I received  there. The nuns actually taught us how to think – a valuable life skill.

I must say I didn’t care much for Sister R… who threw me out of an Advanced English Placement class when she caught me reading something other than the required book.  She was severely disappointed that I was reading Scientific America, a magazine Barbara Schorsch (sp?) lent me. I had to forge my mother’s signature, requesting to be let OUT of Sister R’s class. I returned to Mrs. Hohmeir’s English class – which was a blessing. She was a wonderful teacher who challenged us to think.

Just remembered – I organized sock-hops and got bands to play for dances in the basement gym. The first dance, I had collected enough money – in quarters – from girls supporting the idea –  so before the dance actually began,  we had already made a profit! At another dance, my college boyfriend showed up in jeans. One of  the nuns didn’t want to allow him in. I guess jeans were indicative of wild and dangerous living back in 1968. The nun eventually capitulated.

Sister Aloysius, the Latin teacher, ran the Young Christian Students that connected with other YCS groups in downtown Chicago. YCS made us interview fellow students about a different topic every week or so, all of which I’ve forgotten. I learned an amazing fact from that experience: girls one-to-one were entirely different people than when they were in groups. They were nicer, kinder and smarter in a one-to-one conversation.”

**From Lydia Lombardo (Class of 1950):

“Hi Patricians.

I am Lydia Gallucci Lombardo and I graduated from St. Pat’s in 1950 .  Reading through all the information in your wonderful website had me in tears.  So many memories, but the best part was that the same loyalty and school spirit existed until the very last day.  My sister-in-law Dottie Darmstadt Gallucci also attended as did two of my nieces, Mary and Barbara Gallucci.  Barbara was a junior when the school closed.

I read how the class grieved when the news came down for closure.  Out in the community, we cried too.  I have been in close contact with quite a few classmates and we are still best friends.  We would talk about our antics and experiences for years and our husbands would groan when the “remember when…” started.  Sharing the disappointment were my daughters my classmates” daughters who had planned all of their young lives to go to St. Pats.  They wanted to share that love of the academy we all had and they wanted the laughter that we talked about.  I remember that the most.  There were 48 of us in that class and we still have reunions every five years.  I wrote our class song:  We are so nifty, the class of 50.  I live in Florida now and would love to communicate with anyone who is inclined.  My e-mail is .”

**From Patricia Dittbrenner Keenan

“I graduated in ’46 form St. Patrick Academy. I had Sisters of Mercy teach me from 1st grade at St. Paul of the Cross. I loved them all! What a great education I received at their hands. What a great school St. Patrick’s was…I truly loved it and remember my time there as one of the best times ever. The Nuns were magnificent teachers and people…I could never begin to thank them. I know there has to be many others like me who will remember St. Patrick’s with fond memories and sadness,,,to learn that she is no more.”

**From Joann Vaccarello Peterson (Class of 1968):

“I still love to tell people that I went to “St. Patrick’s Academy for Women!” It’s so impressive…but we were just 14-18 year old girls going to high school. I would be willing to bet that most of us came from Catholic grade schools in the area. We wouldn’t know just how special an experience SPA was till many years later. I was a later graduate (1968), and my cousin, Gail Greenwood, was in the very last class of ’69. I remember that she was also a Colleen.

In reading the other submissions, you see the crazy yet normal high school antics that went on. I’ve heard the confession of one who admitted to learning how to smoke while attending our retreat at Sunset Point, Wisconsin! Class leaders caught playing cat’s cradle with the life-sized statue of the Sacred Heart in the hallway! How we would roll up those skirts and pull our neatly tucked blouses out of those same skirts as we boarded our buses! Ahhhh!

I recall a February snowstorm that closed the doors for 2 days. I boarded the bus about 7 am and by 9 or 10, the bus driver was still slogging through the snow till we stopped for one girl who ran out yelling, “School’s closed!!” The driver turned around and began taking us all back home. So we took our lunches and ate brunch.

Then there was Field Day in May of ’68. The tradition was for everyone to bring food to share, so my cousin and I decided to make homemade cannoli.

We took public transportation with a huge cooler between us, containing the filling and at least 50 beautifully formed homemade shells. It started as a drizzle, but was soon enough of a downpour that the day we had looked forward to for weeks was cancelled, and we were all sent home. Gail and I sat on the bench outside the Sugar Bowl waiting for the bus and eating cannoli…They were delicious!!

Another thing I remember was going to my first wake at St. Pat’s. My folks did not believe that children should attend wakes or funeral, and all my friends knew this. Well, one morning it was announced that one of the sisters, I think Sister Cassia, had passed away, and that all classes would be paying their respects in the chapel! Those of my friends who were in my homeroom got in line around me, some in front and some behind, like a human buffer. We were goofy, serious, smart, energetic, empathetic, honest, devout, obedient and sincerely enjoyed each other’s company.

I’ve been living in Arizona for the last 40 years, but every Christmas I still look forward to receiving cards from a handful of those friends who now share photos of themselves with their grandchildren. Many women from my class are now retired but I know they were also accomplished. Who among us thought about someday being a business owner, a teacher, a principal, a clothes designer, a professor, a real estate agent, a paralegal, a travel specialist…

Here’s to ’68!! Can’t wait to see you in 2018.

 See you in September… 

Diploma of Maxine Clara Goertz – Class of 1944
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**From Jean Niemec Kaprelian (Class of 1953):

“For many years we staggered our alumni gatherings by decades. Our numbers have Diminished so in recent years we decided to get together twice yearly for lunch.This week end we will come together and latest attendance number for this celebration is 16. Our class consisted of 50 students.

Our days at St. Pat’s included all the College Prep classes including Latin. I loved being a member of Glee Club and enjoyed English class when Sister Mark would read Chaucer to us in the manner of Old English. The Sisters of Mercy were great teachers and the country environment of this school really appealed to me. We were surrounded by farm land and since I still live fairly close to the place where our school was located I can tell you that environment has changed dramatically. The town of Des Plaines grew beyond imagination.

There are too many wonderful memories to speak of here but I anxiously await seeing my fellow graduates. All of us are now 83 years old but after 15 minutes into our gatherings it seems we revert back to who we were at graduation, 18 years old. I bet magic will happen again this week end! I am eternally grateful to my parents for enrolling me at St. Pat’s.”


The work has only just begun to tell the story about St. Patrick Academy in Des Plaines. We are in need of plenty of information about the school history, including school song, activities, and even memories. A photo of the school would also be nice to use on this page as well. Here’s two ways to get your information to us:

1) Email us at, or:

2) Send your submissions thru the USPS to us at:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

St. Patrick Academy Flyer
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Submitted by Ginny (Walker) Nevin
St. Patrick Academy Flyer Part 2

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Article Regarding St. Pat’s Demolition
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Submitted by Karen Kornacki Knegten

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